Contributed by Greg Hinchliffe
In 2010, District 1 Baltimore City Councilman Jim Kraft approached the Department of Transportation to develop a plan addressing the increasing transportation demands in southeast Baltimore. Rather than looking exclusively at a ‘parking plan’ to increase on-street parking availability, DOT began an extensive traffic analysis and community input process to develop the Southeast Baltimore Complete Streets Master Plan (CSMP). The Complete Streets Plan not only looked at opportunities to provide reverse-angled parking, but also bike lanes, cycletracks, pedestrian improvements and reallocating pavement space for public parks.
By taking both a block-by-block and corridor-based approach, each street evaluation balanced residential preference with how the street functioned within the entire street network. After its completion, the Southeast Baltimore Complete Streets Master Plan received positive reviews from city agencies, neighborhood leaders and residents. Since then however, none of the recommendations in the plan have been implemented. Despite crafting the master plan, Department of Transportation ignored the recommendations and continued accommodating city streets only for automobile traffic and parking.
The first bike infrastructure casualty of auto proliferation and parking was on Bank Street in Highlandtown, an integral part of the signed “Greektown Bike Route”, which acts as a bike boulevard-style passage from Haven Street in the east to Central Avenue in Little Italy, in conjunction with paths through Patterson Park. To complete this route, the Departments of Recreation and Parks and Transportation collaborated to construct a path within Patterson Park, connecting an existing park path to Bank Street and Ellwood Street. This designated bike route proved to be very popular with neighborhood cyclists, yet it and the proposed traffic calming improvements in the CSMP were ignored in favor of installing reverse angle parking. DOT’s Traffic Division, which oversees all traffic patterns, pavement markings and signal operations, implemented the reverse angle parking without consulting other DOT Divisions, including the city’s bicycle planner, making a portion of the route unusable. Fortunately, the bicycle planner was able to modify the route to restore continuity, although the new route is less direct and convenient.
This pattern of auto proliferation continued with the eradication of another bike boulevard-type signed route in Canton: Fait Avenue, which is a vital link in the “Brewers Hill Bike Route”. Like Bank Street, Fait Avenue was converted from a two-way bike boulevard to a one-way reverse parking corridor. The two way bike route abruptly stops without any bicycle wayfinding signs. Again, the route can be modified to restore continuity, but this has not occurred to date, leaving a confusing and possibly unsafe situation.
In a November 14th, 2013 letter, Councilman Kraft has called for a ‘new’ southeast traffic study. Even though the CSMP accounted for all planned developments in the area including Harbor Point and Canton Crossing, Mr. Kraft is calling for a new traffic study and widening Boston Street to accommodate automobile traffic. No mention is made of accommodating bicycle traffic. A true Complete Streets vision of Boston Street is planned to coincide with Red Line improvements, but that project will not be complete for almost a decade. Pressuring City Hall to bump up the widening of Boston Street without any accommodation of bicyclists threatens the intent of the CSMP to make what could be most bikeable area of the city into the least hospitable environment for bikes.
As the average rowhome in Southeast Baltimore is typically narrower than the length of an automobile, accommodating every household with on-street parking for one or more vehicles is an unattainable goal. Similarly, we just do not have enough roadway to accommodate moving every citizen of the city and its suburbs in single occupancy motor vehicles. Providing for more walkable, bikeable and transit friendly communities is essential, and can only be achieved after the elected officials and DOT staff understand this basic spatial analysis.
Any further “improvements” to Southeast Baltimore to increase traffic flow or parking must include provision for through and local bicycling, as required by the Complete Streets Policy and Bicycle Master Plan, both of which have been enacted by the City Council and signed by the Mayor. At the least, the loss of bicycle accommodation to increase traffic flow or parking must stop. Anything else is a disservice to the present and future citizens of Baltimore.
Greg Hinchliffe is a long-time Baltimore bike pest, former chair of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee and active member of the East Coast Greenway Alliance. In other words, Greg’s got serious bike-cred!